This question popped up during one of my lessons last week so although probably obvious to many jumping oriented riders, it might be interesting to explore for the others so let’s have a look at half-halting without fully sitting in the saddle.
Light seat is a very useful technique both for young horses whose backs tire quickly and for older horse’s as a relaxation and freedom giving way of riding between the jumps or out hacking. It is of no benefit if, the moment the rider lifts the seat off the saddle, the horse loses his balance, speeds up or drops his weight heavily on the forehand.
VIDEO: My own training – light seat to full seat back to light seat
Here is a short video of myself balancing a very powerful mare with on-the-forehand tendencies using frequent half-halts through my upper body, actions of the knees and passive resistance of the reins in short intervals in light seat.
The horse should be able to be as balanced in light seat in basic gaits as he is when ridden in full seat. It’s the test of the rider’s balance for sure but all riders can learn it providing their leg joints can withstand some time with increased weight baring.
When I teach half-halt for the very first time to my Foundation level riders, I start from making sure we have the ingredients to approach the half-halt and so we need to know the following basics:
1. Can you increase and decrease the size of the steps of the pace with your weight aids and leg aids?
2. Are you aware of how upper body’s angle affects the above?
3. Do you know what it means and how to passively resists through the upper body, arms and reins?
4. Can you soften the resistance without losing your own balance?
If the above are not in place in walk and trot, I continue to work on the seat and direct transitions (which are like “pre-school/kindergarden half halts” for both the rider and the horse) until the rider has all the above skills within basic grasp.
For the purpose of this little chat we are going to assume you have the above basics in place 🙂 Without them, “half halts” are often just direct pulls on the reins at random moments…Let’s start.
There are plenty of ways of teaching, understanding and explaining the process of a half-halt: before transitions, before going sideways, after transitions, within paces etc etc but my personal choice is to think of it as an instruction to the horse that says: “now, re-balance under my seat”.
This way, I cover front to back (longitudinal) half halt, sideways (lateral) halt halt and vertical balance (up/down half halt) as well as discipline in the rider: if the horse is to balance under rider’s seat, that seat needs to be defined and stable enough to balance under.
The more the rider focuses on balance, the more each of the actions make sense and become second nature.
Before you start half-halting in light seat in canter, follow these 3 steps (I do them in full seat first):
Step 1: In walk go into your light seat and with a helper on the ground try to determine when the following happens (I will focus on left side for the ease of explanations but do this exercise for both sides):
– when the left hindleg thrusts/pushes forwards
– when the left hindleg reaches/steps under the centre of the horse (you can think of it as if it was stepping underneath your own tail bone – right under the middle of the saddle)
– when the left hindleg is bearing all the weight and carries/collects
Step 2: Attempt to affect each of these stages (no need for piaffing 🙂 Just experiment with each phase)
– decrease and increase the push
– decrease and increase the length of step
– decrease and increase the time the horse spends on the left hind leg
How long each leg does what contributes to the overall balance of the horse. If one hind leg pushes very strongly and the other is weak and pushes less, the horse will end end up walking very crooked and uncomfortable in himself.
Pay most of the attention to the release moment of your action. That’s when balance happens. First create energy (go), then enclose the energy (ask the horse to wait with momentary passive resistance through your upper body and reins), then release/soften (ask the horse to balance himself). Practice this until you can do it within 1-2 strides.
Step 3: Attempt Step 2 with mostly weight aids (down your thighs and into the heels for leg aids to control the hindquarters and through your upper body, arms and elbows/passive resistance on the reins to control the forehand)
Once you have had some fun with the three step exercise above and you feel your horse responding well, you are ready to go into canter and try to half halt in light seat when at speed or coming to the jump.
Transition to canter.
Did it feel forehand heavy?
Drop your weight down your shoulder blades and into your tail bone as you stay above the saddle, feel your elbows going heavy and wrists super light (but closed), resist the forward tendency on the forehand and visualise the hindleg stepping under deeper and carrying horse’s weight for 1/10 of a second longer than in the stride before. If the walk exercise was done well, your horse should react to your weight shift.
Breathe. (take a sip of imaginary tea of coffee 😉
Soften. Allow the horse to feel the effect of you weight drop and momentary resistance. Allow him to figure things out and find his own balance.
Then repeat. 2-3-5-100 times…how ever many times necessary until you both start feeling like you are responding to each other’s weight shifts and the balance of the pace improves (the horse’s back feels more and more centred between your seat bones).
The half halt in light seat might never going to be as powerful or even maybe as invisible as one done in full seat but it’s a good practice to learn to balance your horse both in and out of the saddle 🙂
All the best and happy experimenting!